The drag Obamacare has had on the economy has been hard to quantify in the two-plus years since it became law, because so many of its economy- and job-altering provisions had yet to be written. But that’s changing, and the law’s negative impact on the economy is becoming clearer. The Washington Post’s Robert Samuelson explains one of the ways: the law’s exemption for part-time employees and its definition of what counts as “part time”:
In September, 34 million workers, about a quarter of total workers, were part-time, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). But the BLS defines part-time as less than 35 hours a week; Obamacare’s 30 hours a week was presumably adopted to expand insurance coverage. There are now 10 million workers averaging between 30 and 34 hours a week. To the BLS, they are part-time; under Obamacare, they’re full-time.
Employers have a huge incentive to hold workers under the 30-hour weekly threshold. The requirement to provide insurance above that acts as a steep employment tax. Companies will try to minimize the tax. The most vulnerable workers are the poorest and least skilled who can be most easily replaced and for whom insurance costs loom largest. Indeed, the adjustment has already started.
As first reported in the Orlando Sentinel, Darden Restaurants — owners of about 2,000 outlets including the Red Lobster and Olive Garden chains — is studying ways to shift more employees under the 30-hour ceiling. About three-quarters of its 185,000 workers are already under, says spokesman Rich Jeffers. The question is “can we go higher and still deliver a great [eating] experience.” The financial stakes are sizable. Suppose Darden moves 1,000 servers under 30 hours and avoids paying $5,000 insurance for each. The annual savings: $5 million.
Samuelson notes there are downsides for companies to have employees working fewer hours: The jobs may become less attractive, turnover may increase and, with it, training costs may rise. But the evidence clearly shows that even many employed Americans are still looking for more work because all they can find is part-time work.
In any case, his broader point, to which I subscribe, is that the economy isn’t strong enough — hasn’t been for a few years now — to withstand this kind of unnecessarily, artificially created uncertainty. Businesses always operate with uncertain market conditions, but they don’t need government adding to this uncertainty by passing laws that muddle the labor market — and thereby undermine the entire point of passing the law in the first place.
– By Kyle Wingfield